Monday, August 10, 2015

A Swim on Slab

One of our 11 year old bolts on Lost Ledge
Annie coming up The Hole Traverse
Last weekend we went back over to North Conway, NH to dip our toes into some slab climbing which we hadn't done for a long time.

Revisited Lost Ledge after 11 years - a route we established in 2004 still goes just fine! We had the cliff to ourselves all day!  Then we ran up Sliding Board on Whitehorse Ledge with Toby on a beautiful day.  We got used to those slabs again after a couple of pitches.
View down the sea of slabs from part way up Sliding Board

Scary threesome on Whitehorse slabs

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Black and White

Mostly I write about climbing adventures in this blog. Sometimes I include more hefty and contemplative subjects, such as when our old dairy goat Purslane died.  She was a beautiful black and white French Alpine goat.  She lived to be 18 years old – that’s damned old for an old goat!

I loved that old goat. But I have loved no animal or pet as I have loved Grace, the border collie. I feel so grateful to have gotten to know Grace since 2004 when I met Annie.  In late 2007 when I moved to Vermont, Grace and I began co-habitating. But at that time my dog Maxie took all of my energy and focus as she was a high anxiety and high maintenance pooch.  Post-Maxie Grace was top dog and we gradually got to know each other and bonded over the years.  I learned to understand her ways – quiet, smart, independent and mature.

Grace turned 15 years old this past Saturday. Using the dog-to-people years multiplier, that puts her at 105. Can you imagine living to 105??? I sure can’t. But Grace did, and she did it with grace.

She had been in a long, slow decline for the past year and it seems it accelerated in the past weeks.  She was on meds for inflammatory pain (arthritis), nerve pain and heart medication. This made her much more comfortable the past months and years but medication can only help for so long.  She was old and tired, stiff and aching and losing her dignity.  Grace deserved the very best exit a dog can have and that was our only gift left to give her.  It is the most painful and dreaded thing I can bear in my own heart.  But if I were in her condition I would want the same. 

Now that the decision is behind us, I can feel some peace for Grace.  But it was anything but black and white making that decision.  One always hopes for a beloved pet to go on their own terms and in their own time.  But that is as uncommon for them as it is for us.  We agonized over the decision. “Is she in pain? A lot? Is she happy? She’s eating fine so doesn’t that mean she is still ok?” The questions were plentiful and unanswerable.  It is said by some that “you will know” when she is ready to go.  Unrealistic in my view.  And the tighter the bond between you the more you have to account for a clouded perspective.  We do not want them to leave us and sometimes we hang onto them for too long.  I feel we called it right – I sure hope so.  All I know is that now the house feels so empty and vacant.  We weep. We yearn to see her smile and stroke her soft fur again.  But she’s gone from this world and I sure hope onto a far better place. What more can we hope for in the cloudy grayness that comes when the black and white colors fade away?

Photo by Jane Sobel Klonsky, Please visit Project Unconditional to learn more.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Changing Perspectives

The long, cold, hard winter in Vermont helped to generate an increased appetite for warm weather desert climbing. We recently returned from 8 fab days in Red Rock, Nevada.  Climbing friends, stories and photos never tell the whole story, but can provide for some flavor.  What feels more meaningful in the reflections is the gain of new perspectives.  I find that going on climbing trips, even short ones, can open my mind and shed light on things I might otherwise take for granted or ignore.

A prime example is gratitude.  How fortunate were we to be able to take a trip such as this, have great weather, a comfortable place to stay, wonderful friends to share adventures and meals with, and air and car travel without incident?  No injuries, no illness, no delays, no conflicts. In light of the horrors of today - a devastating earthquake in Nepal; violent protests in Baltimore and other cities; suicide bombs wreaking havoc on innocent civilians. Wow, I feel so fortunate.

On the darker side of perspectives, I  continue to be appalled by the behavior of people in the outdoors, seemingly oblivious to their impact.  Of course we all impact the land and resources in some way when we trudge along the paths in search of our custom adventure.  But the increase in popularity of climbing brings with it numerous problems - most notably impact on the land and land-based features; impact on other people sharing that space; light and noise pollution. Worst of all is an example of human behavior at its lowest - or at least at its most ignorant.  On one popular climb we hiked up the steep trail to the base of a wall only to find a pile of human feces right on the flat rocks at the base of the route.  A small piece of toilet paper shoved underneath an adjacent rock indicated a complete disregard for impact - or as mentioned, incomprehensible ignorance.

I am relieved that The Access Fund has stepped up their efforts to educate climbers and direct efforts into preserving our climbing future. And of course all such efforts do not just preserve my beloved recreational activity, but all organizations with conservation and protection missions are essential to continuing on this planet in the SHORT term.  I keep striving to do my part. I am trying to change my own behaviors, lead by example, think twice before I do something that may have impact on others - instead of lecturing from a pedestal. I am so far from getting it right when it comes to following responsible and ethical practices - but I will not stop trying to get it right. All I can hope for is that everyone else will work on it, too.

I know there are a few readers out there who just want to read the stories and gawk at climbing photos - OK - I like posting that stuff anyway, so no worries.  But I ask that you keep in perspective the past and the future. Honor history - respect the earth - recognize others - widen your perspective beyond yourself and your mini-world. We can all do better.

Randy posing on a sport climb
Nancy on her first real outdoor climb! Go girl!
Group Therapy Pitch 2 - Annie heading up. This route is 600 feet of committed climbing.
The intimidating 5th pitch Group Therapy. Runout, scary chimney climbing. Me no like.

Toby, friend from NH, (who has been living Vegas for the winter to climb) coming up pitch 2 of Birdland, classic!
As I waited at the 4th belay, my 3 comrades waited at the 3rd belay. A cute photo, but 2 climbers who were rapping down the route stopped all other upward climber progress while they untangled their mess and tried to figure out where to go next.  I can't help but wonder if they knew that 90 minutes is really an unacceptable amount of time to make climbers wait.
Super fun and easy finger crack finish on Birdland. Thanks for giving me the sharp end Toby!
Heading out of the tunnel on Tunnel Vision (a weird tunnel behind a huge flake high on the route).  I hated the 1st 3 pitches of this, but if you like chimneys and squeezes like Toby does, you'll be in heaven. The last 3 pitches were great.
Sensuous Mortician at the Necromancer Wall in Icebox Canyon. Our last day of climbing was highlighted by this fabulous face climbing with a Gunks-like roof finish, then another fun finger crack climb to the right and then, unexpectedly, the highlight of the trip - see the last photo of us with the undisputed King of Red Rock climbing...
Another fine crack finish on Fold Out. More technical than it looks!
Our rope got stuck on the pull on the last climb of the trip. If not for this delay, we would not have met this man - that's
Jorge Urioste - the king of Red Rock climbing in the 70s and 80s and beyond.  78 years old and still climbing strong!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Climbing Commentary: The Dawn Wall Project

Yesterday another piece of climbing history was marked. Like a waypoint on an endless journey, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made their mark after free climbing all pitches on the Dawn Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite.

Photo by Max Whittaker for the New York Times grabbed from the NY times web post at

While photos of the great walls of Yosemite are awe inspiring, being there injects astonishment into the bloodstream.  And climbing on the glacial granite there is like no other experience, yet for climbers it's almost just another great day outside on rock.  Tommy and Kevin's accomplishment is of such a grand nature and climbers all around the globe were following their progress.  How exciting it has been to see the national media cover their story among the daunting and disheartening stories of gun violence, ISIS and terrorism, politics and human suffering.  While we should never lose focus of the atrocities in the world that need our thought and thoughtful action, we also welcome that injection of wonderment and optimism.  Tommy credits his optimism for much of his climbing success.  And as I read a book on Learned Optimism (by Dr. Martin Seligman), I am reminded that Tommy is a model of this psychology and am motivated to learn and practice more!

As a climber though, I also cannot help but analyze the feat accomplished on the Dawn Wall.  Their ascent is considered perhaps the hardest free climb in the world.  With the explosion of climbing popularity that is creating so many talented climbers today, no doubt this waypoint will be remembered as just that - another mark on the timeline that provided opportunity to the next optimistic elite climber to achieve the next level of triumph.  For now at least, many of us still seem to remember the great pioneers of rock that have cleared the path for the great pioneers of today. But I am honestly concerned that as time marches on these pioneering achievements will fade and become lost.  Time has a way of eroding all things.  For now, may we all remember and respect those who have gone before us and created opportunities we would otherwise not had.

And if you want to analyze the specifics and style of this recent achievement, check out this documentation of great big wall hard free climbs over the years.  It helps to put in perspective what great climbers have done and how they did it.  Tommy and Kevin did this climb all in one push - meaning they never retreated to the ground between attempts on the harder pitches. They went up with every intent of not coming down until they finished the project free and clean (no falls).  But they did have support. Food and supplies were brought to them. Cameras and climbers on adjacent routes were all around them capturing their struggles and successes.  What is next for these climbers and others like them? We can never capture the same moment twice - which is one of the unique and attractive things about climbing. The route, the conditions, the company, the energy all change each time we climb - this can make the same route feel different each time we climb it.  And no doubt a new style of climbing is evolving and will continue to be molded by new talents, approaches and perspectives.  As long as we do not lose site of the past that brought us here, we can appreciate the value.  I have never thought of climbing as a competition (which is only one reason I feel indoor wall climbing is so completely different from real rock climbing).  Great achievements like The Dawn Wall Project is on one incredible level - beating someone to "the top" is quite another.  And if you observe video or photographic footage of Tommy and Kevin during their quest, it will become obvious that their attitude is far from competitive. Soak up some of the comments they make when asked what they were doing and why. Tommy precisely describes how rock climbing really is unlike more familiar and culturally popularized sports. He says "It's about spending our lives in these beautiful places and forming these incredible bonds." Of finishing the climb with or without Kevin, Tommy said "More than anything I want to top out together....It would be such a bummer to finish this thing without Kevin. I can't imagine anything worse really."   Kevin echos a non-competitive sentiment. "This is not an effort to conquer. It's about realizing a dream."

Thanks guys, for representing our beloved sport in such a mature and gracious light.

Check out this close-up of the Dawn Wall